Lawmakers seek answers as Walmart strains local police time, municipal resources

Rep. John Lesch flips through a stack of incident reports he obtained from the City of St. Paul, stemming from calls for police service made by the Midway Walmart over a the course of one year.

Rep. John Lesch flips through a stack of incident reports he obtained from the City of St. Paul that stem from calls for police service made by the Midway Walmart over the course of one year.

State Rep. John Lesch, a prosecutor in St. Paul for 15 years, can recite the address from memory: 1450 University Avenue West.

That’s Walmart’s Midway location, and it is a magnet for shoplifting and other petty crime that, like several other Walmart stores in Minnesota and across the country, absorbs a disproportionate amount of attention from community police.

“They’re the problem child of Minnesota retailers, and they’re costing taxpayers,” Lesch said.

The worker-led group Making Change at Walmart rolled out a campaign yesterday to hold the nation’s largest retailer accountable for the strain its stores put on local resources. With support from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the organization unveiled a PSA highlighting high crime rates at the St. Paul store, set to air on local TV networks.

The PSA notes two Twin Cities Walmart locations – St. Paul and Brooklyn Park – average three calls for police service per day. “Our police should protect us and not your profits,” the PSA tells Walmart.

UFCW Local 1189 represents workers at Cub, Rainbow Foods and other local retailers, many of which contract with private security firms. By relying instead on local police for security, Walmart undercuts those competitors – and passes the cost onto taxpayers.

“Walmart needs to step up,” Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said. “They should not be sponging off the communities in which they do business.”

UFCW Local 1189 President Jennifer Christensen says Walmart's refusal to hire private security puts retail workers at risk.

UFCW Local 1189 President Jennifer Christensen says Walmart’s refusal to hire private security puts retail workers at risk.

With over $14 billion in profits last year, Walmart can afford to address security issues in its stores – for the benefit of the communities it serves and its own workers, Local 1189 President Jennifer Christensen said.

“Walmart’s failure to maintain a trained, visible, qualified store-security workforce at their own expense is putting workers at risk,” she said. Not only are workers at risk on the job, but when they go home to their neighborhoods, where, Christensen said, “we don’t have patrol cars because they’re busy doing Walmart’s work for them.”

Municipalities lack the resources necessary to push back against Walmart’s disproportionate use of their resources, Lesch said. That’s why he plans to seek a legislative hearing on potential solutions to the issue next session.

Lesch anticipates other state lawmakers will share his interest in ensuring Local Government Aid appropriated by the state to municipalities provides services equitably for residents and businesses in those communities – something he’s long known isn’t happening at 1450 University Avenue West in St. Paul.

“We want Walmart to lower the numbers they have of demands on police services in the state of Minnesota, so that they’re a fair player in the use of taxpayer services,” Lesch said.

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